Chauncy Harris

- 2003

A former president of the AAG, Chauncy Dennison Harris, was at the time of his death on December 26, 2003 the Samuel N. Harper Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago. Awarded a Rhodes scholarship in 1934, he studied geography at Oxford and the London School of Economics and then completed his training at the University of Chicago where he received the Ph.D. degree in 1940. His dissertation study of Salt Lake City was an early example of urban as opposed to rural or environmental focus in American geography. After wartime service in the Department of State and OSS, Professor Harris returned to the University of Chicago where he remained for the rest of his career. His early publications on urban functions and industrial location in the United States resulted in prompt recognition by the geographical profession and rapid promotion at the University of Chicago. While still in military service in Washington, he began to study Russian and developed what would be a life-long interest in the Soviet Union. The extraordinarily rapid urbanization of the USSR was the focus of many articles and his much acclaimed book “Cities of the Soviet Union,” published in 1970. The ethnic complexity of the Soviet realm was an additional major subject of investigation. Soon recognized as a serious and objective scholar, he was well received during his many trips to the USSR and made a persistent effort to bring the work of Soviet geographers to the attention of Western colleagues. Together with Theodore Shabad of the New York Times he played a key role in launching and writing for the journal “Soviet Geography: Review and Translation.” He also found time to pursue an interest in bibliography and produced reference works of enduring value.

In addition to his research and teaching, professor Harris served for several years as Secretary-General of the International Geographical Union, a position that permitted him to make good use of his ability to speak French, German, and Russian. At the University of Chicago he served not only as a professor but also as Dean of its Social Sciences Division, Director of its program of international study, and Vice President for Academic Resources. After reaching mandatory retirement age in 1984, he continued to be active in research and wrote articles on German unification and the ethnic composition of Eastern Europe and the successor states of the former Soviet Union.

Professor Harris received many tributes during his long and productive career, including several honorary degrees, membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and medals from the American Geographical Society, Royal Geographical Society, and Berlin Geographical Society. With his natural dignity, four language fluency, and unfailing courtesy, Chauncy Harris acted in many ways as a diplomat as well as a scholar.

Chancy Dennison Harris (Necrology). 2004. AAG Newsletter 39(2): 17.